Nigerians Claim To Have Located Missing Schoolgirls, But Can’t (Won’t?) Rescue Them
The head of the Nigerian military said yesterday that the nation has located the nearly 300 missing schoolgirls kidnapped from their school some six weeks ago, but that a military operation to rescue them is out of the question:
Nigeria’s military knows the location of nearly 300 girls abducted from school seven weeks ago by Boko Haram extremists, the top commander of the country’s armed forces said Monday. The assertion by the commander, Air Chief Marshal Alex Badeh, was the first time the Nigerian government had publicly claimed to know the whereabouts of the missing girls, whose abduction has provoked global outrage and criticism of the Nigeria military for having failed to find and rescue them.
In remarks carried by the National News Agency of Nigeria, Air Chief Marshal Badeh, the chief of the defense staff, also said the military would not undertake any rescue attempt that would endanger the lives of the girls. Their captors have publicly threatened to sell them into slavery or forced marriage.
Air Chief Marshal Badeh spoke to what news agencies described as a supportive crowd of Nigerians in Abuja, the Nigerian capital, as part of what appeared to be an orchestrated campaign by the military to rebut the criticism over its handling of the mass kidnapping of the girls, who were all seized from the remote northeast village of Chibok on April 14 as they were taking school exams.
“We want our girls back,” Air Chief Marshal Badeh was quoted as saying. “I can tell you that our military can and will do it, but where they are held, can we go there with force? Nobody should say the Nigerian military does not know what it is doing. We can’t kill our girls in the name of trying to get them back.”
He was further quoted as saying: “The good news for the parents of the girls is that we know where they are, but we cannot tell you. We cannot come and tell you the military secret. Just leave us alone, we are working to get the girls back.”
In a further retort to critics, Air Chief Marshal Badeh said, “Anybody castigating the military, definitely there is something wrong with him.”
He did not go into any detail in his quoted remarks about whether the girls remained in one group or had been split up.
American and other foreign officials that are assisting the Nigerians in the search for the girls have not publicly corroborated the commander’s claims, and it seems rather obvious that there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical. At the top of that list, of course, is the fact that the Nigerian government has been under strong criticism for its perceived failures in this crisis, both with respect to the search for the girls and with respect to keeping the families informed of what is going on with the search. The government has repeatedly responded to these criticisms with platitudes and promises that have ultimately proven to be worthless, thus leading to more outrage from the public. There’s every reason to believe that these comments from Marshal Badeh, while certainly more detailed than anything the government has said before, are just another example of that.
Another factor leading one to be skeptical of the truth of this claim by Badeh is the fact that it simply doesn’t make sense from a military point of view. Assume for a moment that it is in fact true that the Nigerians, most likely with the help of the U.S., French, and/or Israeli officers in the region helping in the search, have obtained reliable intelligence on where the girls are located. For what conceivable reason would they even reveal this information publicly? Once Boko Haram got wind of it, they’d obviously do something in reaction to it. Either defenses in the area where the girls are located would be upgraded, the girls would be moved to a different location or locations, or the girls would simply be killed. If the claim is untrue and this is part of some plot to get Boko Haram to act and thus reveal their location, which strikes me as far too sophisticated a plot for a military that has been as generally incompetent as Nigeria’s, then it has the potential danger of angering the girls captors and putting the girls in danger. From an operational standpoint, it just seems to me as though this kind of information is something you don’t reveal, and you certainly don’t reveal publicly that you don’t have the capacity to effect a rescue.
I remain hopeful that these girls can be freed, either via a rescue or by negotiation, but games like this by the government that is supposedly leading the search are certainly not encouraging.